More evidence that the Vancouver Canucks intend to keep defenceman Kevin Bieksa emerged Wednesday when the NHL team announced the signing of rugged winger Raffi Torres.
The Canucks have been seeking a forward with size, grit and Stanley Cup playoff experience, while Bieksa dangled as bait for most of the summer. But their signing of Torres to a one-year, $1-million (all currency U.S.) contract fills a hole, and Bieksa might have to do the same with Sami Salo lost to an Achilles tendon injury and former Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell off the market.
"We all agreed [Torres]is the type of guy that was of interest," assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said. "As we set our priorities in the off-season, and looked at what we needed to do, somewhere in there was a player of this stature."
The Canucks began pursuing the former fifth overall draft choice earlier this month. Gilman said the team wanted to let the market settle to determine how much free agents would cost, before adding a "reasonably-priced" forward.
He said Torres could slide up and down Vancouver's top three lines, as Mikael Samuelsson did last season, even serving with the first-unit Sedin twins this October while Alexandre Burrows recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. Gilman said Torres could be a net-front presence, log second-team power-play time, and be counted on for aggression and checking.
The Canucks will have a glut of wingers vying for duty at training camp next month, but none with Torres's skill set or résumé.
He carries 216 pounds on his six-foot frame, and went to the Cup finals with the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. Just 28, Torres has twice scored 20 goals, and hit 19 last year in a season split between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres. He finished the year on a 15-game drought, and has been prone to long slumps over an eight-year career, now on its fifth organization.
"The best teams have competition to make their teams and have competition within their teams," Gilman said. "For us, Raffi embodies that."
Vancouver's patchwork up front came as Mitchell was departing after four years in Vancouver. The Port McNeil, B.C., native signed a two-year, $7-million pact with the Los Angeles Kings, matching his average annual compensation with the Canucks.
That was too rich for the home-province team, which had dropped out of the proceedings earlier this week, after it became apparent that Mitchell would not be signing for a bargain price. The 33-year-old defenceman is coming back from a third concussion, and has not played since January.